This is the third article in a 5-part series on Maricopa County Regional Parks.
Usery Mountin Regional Park, one of ten Maricopa County Regional Parks, is a 3,648 acre preserve at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. Located on the Valley’s east side, Usery Mountain contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home.
Usery Pass is known for being a major sheep trail leading from the high country north of Mt. Baldy south to the Salt River Valley. Flocks of sheep, led by Mexican and Basque shepherds with their dogs, present a picturesque sight in the spring and fall as they move into or out of the Coconino plateau region.
The traditional account of settlement of the Salt River Valley credits a former Confederate Officer and gold seeker, Jack Swilling, with the beginning of the modern irrigation in central Arizona. Swilling came into the Valley in 1867 and noted the presence of ancient canal systems of the early Native Americans who had irrigated these lands.
Swilling presumably traveled between John Y.T. Smith’s hay camp a few miles east of downtown Phoenix and Fort McDowell in the summer of 1867 and came within sight of Usery Mountain Park, and even closer to the ruins of an old canal system and an ancient Native American village situated between the park and the Salt River.
Usery Mountain Regional Park became a park in 1967. Pass Mountain, also known as “Scarface” to the local folks, is the geological focal point of the park. The mountain itself was named for King Usery (sometimes spelled Ussery). “King” was his first name, rather than a title. He was a cattleman who was running stock in the area in the late 1870s and early 1880s. He had a tough struggle to survive and, apparently losing ground, moved up into the Tonto Basin country where his activities provided him a kind of unwanted security…behind bars.
Usery Mountain offers over 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to over 7 miles, and range from easy to difficult.
These trails are very popular because they have enough elevation to offer spectacular vistas of surrounding plains. Whether you are looking across the plain, flat land, south of the recreation area, or to the west or north, great distances and surrounding mountains can be seen and enjoyed.
Arguably the most popular hike at Usery Mountain is the 3.2-miles Wind Cave Trail up Pass Mountain. Although the elevation gain is 820 feet, it’s considered a moderate hike. Views from this 2,840-foot elevation are offered breathtaking.
If you are looking for an easy, relatively short hike, the Merkle Trail is barrier-free.
For a long more difficult hike, try the 7.1-mile Pass Mountain Trail.
All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated.
Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going.
The park’s modern campground is excellent for RVs of all sizes. Although our 2009-2010 snowbird travels did not take us to Usery Mountain, we have enjoyed camping here on numerous occasions over a period of 20 years. We have found that most of the 73 sites provide adequate space for our 40-foot motorhome.
All sites are paved and have water and 50/30-amp electric service. Other facilities include modern washrooms with flush toilets and hot showers, and a dump station. All sites are first-come, first served. In the event that the campground is full when you arrive, the park has an overflow area where you can park until a space becomes available.
For campground map, click here.
Nightly camping fee is currently $25.00 including tax.
Day use fee is $6.00.
Location and directions
3939 N. Usery Pass Road, Mesa, AZ 85207
From Loop 202 exit east on East McKellips Road to Usery Pass/East Ellsworth Road, north to Usery Mountain Regional Park entrance.
For map, click here.
Maricopa County parks will be unveiling a new reservation system this winter. Campers have been asking for a system that would allow them to reserve a campsite prior to arriving at the park.
Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department is offering free camping until Wednesday, November 10, 2010. Visitors who pay the camping fee for one night will receive the next night of equal value for free. Offer NOT valid for group campground reservations or unit fees. Limit of one free night per family, household, and/or group in a seven day period (Monday through Sunday). Rain checks will NOT be issued if space is not available.
For additional information visit the Maricopa County Regional Parks website or phone (602) 506-2930.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know that place for the first time.
— T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding